The Language of Magic #1: Threadneedle – Cari Thomas

Spoilers Ahead! (in content warnings)

‘How can I know who I am without knowing who I came from?’

After a tragedy left her an orphan, Anna was raised by her Aunt. She’s known her entire life that she’s going to be a Binder when she grows up.

The Binders did all they could to prevent magic being exposed to the ordinary world, to keep it locked away behind doors; brushed under carpets; tied in necklaces and tucked beneath blouses.

Now Anna is in sixth form and it’s only a year until her magic, such that it is, will be bound. As the school Nobody, Anna has always tried to fly under the radar. That won’t be as easy to achieve once she joins a coven.

‘We deal in that which cannot be known by the light of day and exact our punishments by dark.’

Attis, resident eye candy/mystery boy, intrigued me, as did Effie, although I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be best friends with her or her archnemesis. She’s kinda prickly so I think I’d want to be cautious around her.

Having a religious girl in the coven initially confused me as I had trouble figuring out how the two could possibly intersect. I don’t think I like Miranda/Manda. There’s something about people who claim religion and then act in ways that fly in the face of their spouted beliefs that make me want to point my finger and hiss, ‘Hyprocrite!’ I know we’ve all been guilty of saying one thing and then doing another at some point in our lives but when it comes from someone who evangelises … I don’t know … it just seems different somehow.

Then there was Rowan, who I absolutely adored, except for the fact that so much time was spent body shaming her. If someone else wasn’t bullying her about her weight, Rowan was pointing it out herself. She was so much more interesting to me than whatever the scales say about her. Also, her mother is an absolute delight and I need to spend so much more time with her!

The Binders gave me cult vibes throughout the book. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you think there’s some truth to what they’ve been saying all along or not. I’m a bit on the fence about this and could argue either way. I suspect there’s some truth there but I definitely question (and that’s putting it nicely) their methods and some crucial core beliefs.

I’m usually all for magic, regardless of the form it takes, but some of the magic in this book gave me the heebie-jeebies. I’m not sure if I’ve simply never considered this before or if it was the way some of the magic played out here but it got me thinking about free will. If any spell removes free will from someone, whether it’s their thoughts or actions, then it seems to me that this tramples all over consent.

To force your will on someone else in a way that takes away their freedom to think or act in a way they choose feels really icky to me. My brain helpfully came up with the term ‘magical assault’ and now I can’t get it out of my head. I’m not sure if I’ll ever see certain types of magic in action again without my brain shouting that at me. Thanks for nothing, brain!

The bonds we have with family and friends and how these can be tied to fear and sacrifice are explored in this book. It’s not always clear whether someone is acting selfishly or in another person’s best interests. There are opposing truths at play, which complicates things even further.

One thing that definitely wasn’t complicated for me was my love of this book’s magical library. This could be one of my favourite libraries ever and I want to spend an entire book lost in there.

While I wish I’d learned more about the seven faceless women in this book, there are indications that they will play a vital role as the series unfolds. I am particularly interested in the seventh woman and am not so secretly hoping that we’ve already met her in this book but don’t know it yet. I already know who I want her to be.

‘People think stories are harmless but they are the most dangerous weapon mankind has.’

Content warnings include body shaming, bullying, emotional abuse, physical abuse and slut shaming. Death by suicide is mentioned a few times as a suspected cause of death.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Harper Voyager, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, for granting my wish to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Within the boroughs of London, nestled among its streets, hides another city filled with magic.

Ever since Anna can remember, her aunt has warned her of the dangers of magic. She has taught her to fear how it twists and knots and turns into something dark and deadly.

It was, after all, magic that killed her parents and left her in her aunt’s care. It’s why she has been protected from the magical world and, in one year’s time, what little magic she has will be bound. She will join her aunt alongside the other Binders who believe magic is a sin not to be used, but denied. Only one more year and she will be free of the curse of magic, her aunt’s teachings and the disappointment of the little she is capable of.

Nothing – and no one – could change her mind before then. Could it?

Supernatural Investigations #1: Amari and the Night Brothers – B.B. Alston

“Go to any corner of the world and you’ll find tales of beings and creatures that only seem possible in our imaginations. What if I told you that living among us are all the beings we’ve come to pass off as myth?”

Amari Peters is a twelve year old Black kid from the projects. She lives with her Mama, who is working herself into the ground trying to make ends meet. Amari’s older brother and biggest supporter, Quinton, has been missing for almost six months.

“He made me believe I could actually do anything I set my mind to. He made me believe in me.”

Amari refuses to believe that Quinton is dead or that his disappearance is a result of him getting mixed up in something shady, despite what everyone else seems to think. She knows her brother is alive and that he would never compromise his values, and she’s determined to be the one to find him.

Amari, an outcast, is about to learn there’s much more to this world than she ever dreamed possible. People have judged Amari for things about herself she can’t change, even if she wanted to, her entire life. Now she’s received an invitation to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, “a location that handles several million very well-kept secrets.”

“You ready?”

“I think so,” I say.

Agent Magnus grins. “Oh, I doubt that very much.”

Amari’s new roommate, Elsie Rodriguez, is a weredragon who can see other people’s emotions. Elsie has so much potential, as a loyal friend, as an inventor and as a serious contender for the honour of being my favourite character (besides Amari, of course).

Amari travels in elevators that have more personality than some humans. My favourites were super speedy Lucy and Mischief, the part time service elevator with a dirty-rascal chip. You’ll need them to visit the Bureau’s various departments.

I’m listing the departments mentioned in this book, along with the names of the directors we know about so far, mostly so I don’t forget them by the time I get my hands on the sequel.

  • Department of Creature Control
  • Department of the Dead – Director Kript
  • Department of Dreams and Nightmares
  • Department of Good Fortunes and Bad Omens – Director Horus
  • Department of Half Truths and Full Cover-Ups – Director Rub-Ish
  • Department of Hidden Places
  • Department of Magical Science – Director Fokus
  • Department of Supernatural Health
  • Department of Supernatural Investigations – Director Van Helsing
  • Department of Supernatural Licenses and Records – Director Cobblepot
  • Department of Undersea Relations
  • Department of the Unexplained

The names of the directors are perfect! I’m hoping someone will come up with a quiz (if they haven’t already) I can take to tell me which department I‘d work in.

Amari learns some really cool things (boogeypersons eat fear, which apparently tastes like chicken) but she quickly discovers that prejudice also exists in the supernatural world. I hope all of the kids who read this book take to heart the message of believing in yourself.

In case it’s not already obvious, I am absolutely obsessed with this book! I’d recommended it to someone before I’d reached 25%. I’ve ordered a copy from the library for my mother and haven’t even told her a single thing about it yet; that’s how confident I am that she’ll love it as well. I purchased a signed copy when I still had over fifty pages to go. [This is the first physical book I’ve bought in 2021 and if you knew anything about my current situation you’d realise what a huge deal it was for me to have broken my longest I’m-not-buying-any-books streak in what is quite possibly my entire reading life.]

This book has me almost equal parts exhilarated and terrified. I haven’t been this excited about a new series for so long that I can’t even tell you what the last series was that had me so hyped up. So why is that terrifying? Because I borrowed this book from the library, it’s due tomorrow and I came so close to sending it back unread because I didn’t think I’d have the time to finish it. I almost missed out on the wonder that is Amari and the world that was brought to life through her eyes. The world building in this book is phenomenal!

I know what you’re probably thinking. It’s a library book; surely I could have reserved it again and should stop being so dramatic. Well, my friend, this is me we’re talking about. My TBR list is so ginormous that if I don’t get to a book when I first pick it up it’s likely to fall into my good intentions abyss. New favourites like this one terrify me because they make me wonder what other gems I might be missing out on.

“In the end, we are all bound by our choices.”

I want to live in the Bureau’s library and become best friends with Mrs. Belle, the librarian who knows “what you’d like to read, just by looking at you.” One of my favourite bookish delights, fictional book titles mentioned within a book, were scattered throughout Amari’s story; the ones I most want to read are Physics in Magic: The Often Lack Thereof and Rasputin’s Directory of Dangerous Doodads and Doohickeys. The gossip magazine article that I’m already imagining writing a B-grade book about was Rogue carnivorous thunderclouds threaten air travel in South Pacific.

I need someone to magic up the sequel for me. I don’t think I can wait until 2022 to read it!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Amari Peters knows three things.

Her brother Quinton has gone missing.

No one will talk about it.

His mysterious job holds a clue …

So when she’s invited for a trial at the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs, Amari is certain this is her chance to save him. But first she has to get her head around the new world of the Bureau, where mermaids, aliens and magicians are real – and her roommate is a weredragon.

Amari must compete for a spot against kids who’ve known about this world their whole lives. And with an evil magician threatening the entire supernatural world, Amari has never felt more alone. But if she doesn’t pass the three tryouts, she may never find out what happened to Quinton …

Consent – Vanessa Springora

Translator – Natasha Lehrer

Every so often I read a blurb and just know a book’s contents are going to make my blood boil. This is one of those books.

In her memoir, Vanessa (V.) tells us about G.

G. is Gabriel Matzneff, a French author who, in his books, never attempts to hide his sexual assaults (he calls it love) of underage girls and his trips to the Philippines to sexually assault even younger boys. G. is someone who has won awards for detailing his crimes.

After they met at a party, G. quickly turned his attention to Vanessa.

I had just turned fourteen. He was almost fifty.

The fury for me came in waves, each time someone who could have (and should have) protected Vanessa failed to do so.

Her father is physically and emotionally absent; he doesn’t act on the outrage he feels when he learns of Vanessa’s ‘relationship’ with G.

Her mother allows it, even casually having dinner with her daughter and her rapist. Sure, her mother “consulted” her friends about him but none of them were “particularly disturbed”. This is the woman who made a deal with the devil:

Whatever the reason, her only intervention was to make a pact with G. He had to swear that he would never make me suffer.

The police are notified on a number of occasions but their efforts can hardly be accused of being an investigation.

Then there’s Emil Cioran, a philosopher and friend of G., who came up with this gem:

“It is an immense honor to have been chosen by him. Your role is to accompany him on the path of creation, and to bow to his impulses.”

I’m so glad that Vanessa has used writing to tell her truth, the very medium that her abuser used to distort her experiences with him.

This was a quick but difficult read. I spent a significant amount of time wanting to throw the book against a wall, mostly because the people who were infuriating me weren’t conveniently standing in front of me.

The fact that so many people essentially gave this man their blessing to continue being a serial predator astounds me. Because books are such an integral part of my life I feel justified in being personally offended that G. was encouraged to continue writing about his sickening behaviour, both by the French publishers who continued to print them and the people who actually paid to read them.

G. was not like other men. He boasted of only having had sexual relations with girls who were virgins or boys who had barely reached puberty, then recounted these stories in his books. This was precisely what he was doing when he took possession of my youth for his sexual and literary ends.

This is a well written book. Just make sure you have a punching bag handy when you read it.

P.S. This NY Times article has given me a glimmer or hope that G. may get to see the inside of a jail cell. Maybe all of his published books will be good for something after all: evidence.

Content warnings include domestic violence, gaslighting, grooming, mental health, paedophilia and sexual assault.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Already an international literary sensation, an intimate and powerful memoir of a young French teenage girl’s relationship with a famous, much older male writer – a universal #MeToo story of power, manipulation, trauma, recovery, and resiliency that exposes the hypocrisy of a culture that has allowed the sexual abuse of minors to occur unchecked.

Sometimes, all it takes is a single voice to shatter the silence of complicity. 

Thirty years ago, Vanessa Springora was the teenage muse of one of the country’s most celebrated writers, a footnote in the narrative of a very influential man in the French literary world.

At the end of 2019, as women around the world began to speak out, Vanessa, now in her forties and the director of one of France’s leading publishing houses, decided to reclaim her own story, offering her perspective of those events sharply known.

Consent is the story of one precocious young girl’s stolen adolescence. Devastating in its honesty, Vanessa’s painstakingly memoir lays bare the cultural attitudes and circumstances that made it possible for a thirteen-year-old girl to become involved with a fifty-year-old man who happened to be a notable writer. As she recalls the events of her childhood and her seduction by one of her country’s most notable writers, Vanessa reflects on the ways in which this disturbing relationship changed and affected her as she grew older. 

Drawing parallels between children’s fairy tales and French history and her personal life, Vanessa offers an intimate and absorbing look at the meaning of love and consent and the toll of trauma and the power of healing in women’s lives. Ultimately, she offers a forceful indictment of a chauvinistic literary world that has for too long accepted and helped perpetuate gender inequality and the exploitation and sexual abuse of children.

The Nesting – C.J. Cooke

‘Nature always protects itself by whatever means possible.’

Sophie has a new job as a nanny, caring for two adorable girls, Gaia and Coco. Their father, Tom, is an architect who’s currently working hard on an innovative new project in Norway. Sophie is also working hard, trying to make sure no one figures out that she’s not really Sophie, but Lexi, and that she’s not actually a nanny.

Although it appears to be the ideal escape from her real life, this new job isn’t as straightforward as Lexi had hoped. Tom’s wife died recently, supposedly by suicide, although Lexi suspects there’s more to the story. She’s also been told that the locked basement is off limits.

Even if you hear something down there, please stay out.

Hear something?

What the hell was in that basement?

Then there’s the Sad Lady, who Gaia keeps mentioning, who has holes where her eyes should be.

I’d only planned on reading a couple of pages to get a feel for the book but before I knew it I’d binged the entire thing. I enjoyed it much more than I expected I would but I am left with some question marks.

I adored the children but didn’t connect with any of the adults. The mental health components of Lexi and Aurelia’s stories intrigued me but I’m not a huge fan of unreliable narrators so I found myself questioning their realities more than I would have liked.

After such a build up, the ending felt rushed to me and some of the ways the story came together seemed a bit too convenient. Lexi’s backstory answered some questions I’d had but read more like an info dump, glossing over some pretty monumental events in her life.

With trees and a fjord, minimal sunlight and the tantalising possibility of spotting an aurora, the setting felt like its own character and made this an atmospheric read. This was helped along by the environmental message and the Norse folklore. The folklore included in this story were written by the author.

I’m interested in reading more books by this author and devouring some Norse folklore.

Content warnings include attempted suicide (including the method used), child abuse, foster care, mental health, miscarriage, sexual assault and suicidal ideation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It was like something out of a fairytale …
The grieving widower.
The motherless daughters.
A beautiful house in the woods.

Deep in a remote Norwegian forest, Lexi has found a new home with architect Tom and his two young daughters. With snow underfoot and the sound of the nearby fjord in her ears, it’s as if Lexi has stepped into a fairy tale

But this family has a history – and this place has a past. Something was destroyed to build their beautiful new house. And those ancient, whispering woods have a long memory.

Lexi begins to hear things, see things that don’t make sense. She used to think this place heavenly, but in the dark, dark woods, a menacing presence lurks.

With darkness creeping in from the outside, Lexi knows she needs to protect the children in her care.

But protect them from what?

Girl A – Abigail Dean

There are things that your body doesn’t allow you to forget.

The seven Gracie children are known in the media as Boys A to D and Girls A to C. Lex, our main character, is Girl A.

‘Girl A,’ she said. ‘The girl who escaped. If anybody was going to make it, it was going to be you.’

We join Lex’s story when she learns her mother, who recently died in prison, made Lex the executor of her will. It’s now up to Lex, in consultation with her siblings, to figure out what to do with the House of Horrors of their childhood.

I found it impossible to get the Turpin children out of my mind as I read this book. There are so many similarities, from the way they were treated to the photographs released in the media showing their matching clothes and distinctive hair, that I probably wouldn’t believe it if I was told the Turpin’s weren’t the inspiration for the Gracie’s in this story.

Number 11 was set back from the road. It had a grubby beige front and a garage, and a garden at the back. It was – as they would later say – a very ordinary house.

With the almost casual use of terms like “the Binding Days” and “the Chaining”, you know you’re not in for a light and fluffy read. It wasn’t as traumatic as I’d feared it would be, although it may be that I’m more accustomed to processing stories that feature child abuse.

I know enough information about each of the siblings to have an idea of how they’ve coped with the trauma they experienced as children but I would have loved to have delved deeper. Then again, the depth I was hoping for would probably transform this from a book of fiction to a psychology textbook. That’s just my long term fascination with nature vs. nurture talking.

I didn’t find the frequent timeline jumps disorienting, although some other reviewers clearly weren’t fans of it. Throughout the book we learn about Lex’s early childhood memories, the events that lead up to her escape and its immediate aftermath, and her life since. There’s not a lot of happy in this book, which makes the brief interactions with characters like Miss Glade, one of Lex’s teachers, shine that much brighter.

I figured out the twist quite early on. I don’t remember a specific sentence that pointed me in that direction, though. Instead, it felt more like an instinctual knowing. Even so, I didn’t find a lot to back up my theory before the reveal confirmed it. I’d like to be able to discuss the psychology surrounding it, particularly the impacts I suspect are related to it but aren’t explicitly mentioned, but I will instead ponder them quietly to myself because spoilers.

Content warnings include addiction, death by suicide, emotional abuse, neglect, physical abuse and self harm.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

‘Girl A,’ she said. ‘The girl who escaped. If anyone was going to make it, it was going to be you.’

Lex Gracie doesn’t want to think about her family. She doesn’t want to think about growing up in her parents’ House of Horrors. And she doesn’t want to think about her identity as Girl A: the girl who escaped. When her mother dies in prison and leaves Lex and her siblings the family home, she can’t run from her past any longer. Together with her sister, Evie, Lex intends to turn the House of Horrors into a force for good. But first she must come to terms with her six siblings – and with the childhood they shared. 

The Shadow in the Glass – J.J.A. Harwood

Spoilers (in the Content Warnings)

‘I’d like to propose a bargain. I will offer you seven wishes. Whatever you ask for, I shall grant you. There are few limits.’

In this dark retelling, Eleanor is our Cinderella. After the death of her parents she was cared for by Mrs Pembroke, who Eleanor remembers fondly. It’s been three years since Mrs Pembroke’s death and in that time Eleanor’s once soft hands have reddened and cracked, the result of her new role as one of Mr Pembroke’s housemaids.

Eleanor’s life is a daily struggle; her body aches from the work she does, she is never warm enough and she is always hungry. Then there is the constant threat of Mr Pembroke himself. Reading is Eleanor’s only escape.

The dark spines of the books were rows of windows, waiting for the shutters to be pulled back.

Eleanor imagines what she would wish for if she were granted some like the characters in books she’s read. Eleanor wishes that she could live a life without poverty, hunger and danger.

Eleanor tried to be good, she tried to be kind, but she wanted so many things that she could feel them gnawing at her from the inside.

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Eleanor needs to be careful what she wishes for, though, because her fairy godmother isn’t the one who made you believe bibbidi-bobbidi-boo was a real spell.

No, wishes have some serious consequences in this fairytale.

Set in the nineteenth century, you know things are going to be pretty dire for women in general, but the teenagers who work at Granborough House also live with the constant threat of danger inside the house. I empathised with all of the housemaids but never connected with Eleanor. I didn’t like her, which made it difficult to become invested in the potential the wishes had to improve her circumstances.

I found some parts of the book repetitive and it felt like a longer read than it actually was, predominantly because the settings and the majority of the women’s lives were quite bleak.

I enjoyed anticipating how Eleanor’s wishes would be granted and seeing how she would react when she was given what she asked for, especially when expectation and reality didn’t line up.

I am left with a few unanswered questions but none that will keep me up at night. I expect the ending may not be for everyone but I loved it.

‘If you want something, my dear, you must ask for it.’

Content warnings include abortion/miscarriage, physical abuse and the consistent threat of sexual assault, along with mention of previous instances.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and HarperVoyager, an imprint of HarperCollins UK, for granting my wish to read this book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A deliciously gothic story of wishes and curses – a new dark fairy tale set against a Victorian backdrop full of lace and smoke.

Once upon a time Ella had wished for more than her life as a lowly maid.

Now forced to work hard under the unforgiving, lecherous gaze of the man she once called stepfather, Ella’s only refuge is in the books she reads by candlelight, secreted away in the library she isn’t permitted to enter.

One night, among her beloved books of far-off lands, Ella’s wishes are answered. At the stroke of midnight, a fairy godmother makes her an offer that will change her life: seven wishes, hers to make as she pleases. But each wish comes at a price and Ella must decide whether it’s one she’s willing to pay …

Mercy House – Alena Dillon

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

“Two eighty-four Chauncey Street. It’s the one with the angel doorknocker. Arrive any time. Day or night. You can be safe.”

Sisters Evelyn, Josephine and Maria have run Mercy House for twenty five years, providing a safe place for women who are escaping violence. Although they are undoubtably effective in their mission, they don’t always play by the strict rules of the Catholic Church.

“It’s what we’ve feared,” Josephine said. “It’s him.”

Bishop Hawkins is coming to visit Mercy House. His visit is part of the ‘nun-quisition’, which puts the actions of nuns under the microscope because of their “secular mentality” and “feminist spirit”. (Never mind that the same church actively moves priests between parishes and pays hush money to sweep much greater offences under the rug.) Besides the fear that the methods they employ in their ministry won’t stand up to close scrutiny, Evelyn has her own personal reasons for never wanting to see this ‘man of God’ again.

When you think of nuns, Evelyn is probably not who you have in mind. She loves what she does but still grumbles at getting woken up in the middle of the night when it’s her turn to answer the door. Her beliefs aren’t as strictly tied to her faith as you’d expect and if there’s a loophole that will produce better results, you can be sure she’ll find it.

Actually, none of the Sisters who run Mercy House line up with stereotypical nuns. Would you ever expect nuns to have a conversation like this?

“Crap baskets,” Maria said.

“Yeah. Major crap baskets,” Evelyn agreed.

Love it!

As much as I loved the three Sisters, I hated Hawkins and spent much of the book overcome by a seething fury, imagining all of the ways that I wanted to see him suffer. You don’t want to just angry your way through a book though. Fortunately there were some amazing women who balanced out my rage with wonder at their courage and resilience. These women are dealing with shame and secrets, and trying their best to survive their past.

While I liked each of the residents of Mercy House, it was Desiree who stood out, and for good reason. Desiree has this in your face brashness. She acts tough but she’s vulnerable as well, although she definitely doesn’t want you to acknowledge that part of her. She speaks her mind and oftentimes says what everyone else is thinking. You’d want to be her friend but she’d make a fierce enemy so don’t get on the wrong side of her. She was responsible for most of my smiles while I was reading.

“This is sweet and all, but we were promised we’d get pizza if we came to church. So …”

The women of Mercy House have been through some really difficult life experiences, none of which are glossed over. Please be safe while reading, especially if you are likely to be triggered by any of the content.

Although it made the narrative neater, it seemed unlikely to me that during the course of the book, no new residents came seeking refuge at Mercy House after we met Lucia.

I don’t know if publishers don’t know about readers like myself but whenever there’s a website included in a book I’m going to look it up. There’s a website in this book, SaveMercyHouse.com, that doesn’t exist. Given the book’s themes, I would have loved to have seen a page that represented what was mentioned in the book, along with details of relevant helplines and organisations that readers could donate to.

I think I understand why the author left the story where they do. Although there are many characters who make their mark on the lives and/or hearts of the nuns who run Mercy House, this story really is Evelyn’s. Her story ends with possibilities for the future but overall the book didn’t give me the answers I hoped for.

😇 Did Mercy House stay open?

😇 Was Evelyn ever called Sister again?

😇 What happened between Evelyn and Eloise?

😇 Were there any consequences for the bishop?

😇 Were there any consequences for John?

😇 What happened to the five Mercy House residents we got to know?

What wonders can be built from broken stuff.

Content warnings include abortion, addiction, domestic violence, gun violence, homophobia, racism, self harm and sexual assault.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn stands a century-old row house presided over by renegade, silver-haired Sister Evelyn. Gruff and indomitable on the surface, warm and wry underneath, Evelyn and her fellow sisters makes Mercy House a safe haven for the abused and abandoned. 

Women like Lucia, who arrives in the dead of night; Mei-Li, the Chinese and Russian house veteran; Desiree, a loud and proud prostitute; Esther, a Haitian immigrant and aspiring collegiate; and Katrina, knitter of lumpy scarves … all of them know what it’s like to be broken by men.

Little daunts Evelyn, until she receives word that Bishop Robert Hawkins is coming to investigate Mercy House and the nuns, whose secret efforts to help the women in ways forbidden by the Church may be uncovered. But Evelyn has secrets too, dark enough to threaten everything she has built.

Evelyn will do anything to protect Mercy House and the vibrant, diverse women it serves – confront gang members, challenge her beliefs, even face her past. As she fights to defend all that she loves, she discovers the extraordinary power of mercy and the grace it grants, not just to those who receive it, but to those strong enough to bestow it.

The Patient – Jasper DeWitt

Spoilers Ahead!

But every hospital, even with patients like these, has at least one inmate who’s weird even for the mental ward.

Patient name: Joe

Date of First Admission: 5 June 1973

Patient’s Age at Time of First Admission: 6

Previous Treatments: Unknown

Current Treatments: Mild antidepressants and sedatives

Treatment Administered By: Nessie, Nursing Director

Diagnosis: Disputed; his “symptoms seemed to mutate unpredictably”

Patient Release Date: N/A

This type of patient is obviously insane, but nobody knows how they got that way. What you do know, however, is that it’ll drive you insane trying to figure it out.

When Dr. Parker H — begins working as a psychiatrist at Connecticut State Asylum he’s young, arrogant and confident he will be able to cure the patient the rest of the staff believe is incurable.

“So, tell me. Why do you want to attempt therapy on an incurable patient?”

Joe has been a patient at CSU for over twenty years and no treatments have worked. It’s gotten to the point where he’s almost entirely isolated due to the fact that the people who attempt to treat him either die by suicide or wind up admitted to CSU themselves.

I’ve also come to a conclusion: Whatever Joe has, I’m sure we can’t cure it. I don’t even think we can diagnose it. It’s obviously not in the DSM.

If it turns out that psychiatry isn’t the answer for this man, then who do we need to call instead?

A priest?

Mulder and Scully?

Moose and Squirrel?

(Hello, boys)

Dr H — adds instalments of Joe’s story on “a now-defunct web forum for medical professionals” over the course of seven weeks, his own recollections interspersed with physician’s notes. We’re told that all names have been changed.

The first instalment, where Dr H — describes CSU, was interesting but it made me wonder if the narrative was going to end up fairly dry. I needn’t have worried. I soon became hooked, searching the pages for clues that would help me diagnose Joe. I love stories set in asylums so I was probably always going to enjoy this book but I was surprised by how compulsive this read became.

I planned to only read the first entry to get a feel for the book before tackling something that publishes sooner. However, this one ended up jumping the queue and I am already trying to figure out when I will have time for a reread. I’m very grateful to have had the entire story to binge on; it would have frustrated me so much if I’d had to wait for new instalments to become available.

It’s been a couple of days since I finished reading and I want to compare theories with someone. Since I don’t know anyone else who’s read it yet I need to blurt something out here. But, SPOILER AHEAD! I have a theory about the end of the book but it’s based on a spoiler so PLEASE don’t read the next paragraph until you’ve finished the book.

⚠️ I have my suspicions about Jocelyn. I could be entirely off base here but I think she was killed by ‘Joe’ when he attacked her, and he then shapeshifted to become her. I want her pregnancy to result in a creepy human/whatever-Joe-is hybrid so I can hopefully find out more about what Joe actually is in a sequel (if there is one). ⚠️

I’m really hoping for a sequel as I have plenty of unanswered questions and need to know what’s next for Dr H — and Joe. I also need some information about Joe’s sister.

Content warnings include mention of addiction, alcoholism, bullying, death by suicide, domestic violence, mental illness, physical abuse, self harm, sexual assault, suicidal ideation, torture and the violent death of an animal.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and HarperCollins Publishers Australia for the opportunity to read this book.

Bonus Content: A prequel to this book, I used to get letters from my nightmares, was available to read on Reddit at the time I wrote this review. While most parts are available to read on the Reddit website I needed to download the app to read parts 3 and 8 due to sensitive content. While the prequel answered some of my unanswered questions I would recommend you read The Patient first. Had I read the prequel first I would have had a better idea of where Joe’s story was heading and this would have taken away some of the joy of discovery.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In a series of online posts, Parker H., a young psychiatrist, chronicles the harrowing account of his time working at a dreary mental hospital in New England. Through this internet message board, Parker hopes to communicate with the world his effort to cure one bewildering patient.

We learn, as Parker did on his first day at the hospital, of the facility’s most difficult, profoundly dangerous case – a forty-year-old man who was originally admitted to the hospital at age six. This patient has no known diagnosis. His symptoms seem to evolve over time. Every person who has attempted to treat him has been driven to madness or suicide.

Desperate and fearful, the hospital’s directors keep him strictly confined and allow minimal contact with staff for their own safety, convinced that releasing him would unleash catastrophe on the outside world. Parker, brilliant and overconfident, takes it upon himself to discover what ails this mystery patient and finally cure him. But from his first encounter with the mystery patient, things spiral out of control, and, facing a possibility beyond his wildest imaginings, Parker is forced to question everything he thought he knew.

Judy Moody #15: Judy Moody, Super Book Whiz – Megan McDonald

Illustrations – Peter H. Reynolds

“The Bookworms rule!”

Judy and her brother Stink are reading up a storm.

They, along with Frank, Sophie and Jessica, are the Virginia Dare Bookworms. The Bookworms are preparing to beat Braintree Academy’s team, the Bloodsucking Fake-Mustache Defenders, to the buzzer when they compete in the Book Quiz Blowout.

The winning team will not just earn bookish bragging rights. The Book Quiz Wizard’s Cup will be proudly displayed in their school’s library. This is no ordinary trophy – it lights up!

She, Judy Moody, was a book quiz whiz. A book wizard. A quizzard!

Judy is frantically practising her speed reading and Stink has his Cape of Good Answers, but when they learn of the other team’s secret weapon the Bookworms’ confidence is shaken.

“Will the Bookworms take a bite out of the Bloodsuckers? Or will the Bloodsuckers sink their fangs into the Bookworms on their way to the finish and take home the trophy?”

I always enjoy Peter H. Reynolds’ illustrations, in particular how expressive the children are.

In preparation for the upcoming competition, the Bookworms talk about oodles of children’s books, both classics and more recent bestsellers. As someone who has always sought out potential future reads in my current read, I was delighted to find a list of everything the Bookworms read at the end of the book. All six pages of them, with titles and authors, in alphabetical order! Some of my own childhood favourites are there as well – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlotte’s Web and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

N.B. The title of the copy I read is Judy Moody, Super Book Whiz. On Goodreads this is listed as Judy Moody, Book Quiz Whiz.

I won a copy of this book in a giveaway, which was hosted by Tracey at Carpe Librum. Thank you so much to Carpe Librum, Walker Books and HarperCollins Publishers Australia for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Books, books, books! Judy’s got books on the brain as she prepares for a totally RARE trivia competition. Has reading always been this exciting?

Judy Moody is in it to win it. Win the Book Quiz Blowout, that is. Judy and her brother, Stink, are two-fifths of the Virginia Dare Bookworms, and they’ve been reading up a storm to prepare for Saturday’s face-off against second- and third-grade readers from the next town. Judy’s trying out all kinds of tactics, from hanging upside down like Pippi Longstocking to teaching herself to speed read The Princess in Black, and Stink has fashioned a cape of book trivia sticky notes to help him remember all the penguins in Mr. Popper’s Penguins. But when Judy, Stink, and their fellow teammates discover the other group has a fourth-grader (no lie!), they get a bit nervous. Are the Bookworms up to the challenge?

Ingo – Helen Dunmore

I always feel so honoured when someone tells me about one of their favourite books. Books have been such an integral part of my life and I know without a doubt that my experiences, hopes, dreams and pain, all mingled together, make certain books more personally significant than others. If I learn about a book that was important to someone in their childhood then I’m likely to want to dive straight in.

That’s what happened with this book. I was 8 pages into my next read when I learned of this book’s existence. Within the hour I had found a copy at my library (I love my library!) and begun reading. Sorry, other read.

There’s a track that runs from their cottage to the cove. The beach disappears at high tide but Sapphire and her older brother, Conor, know the tides and spend a lot of their time exploring and swimming there. Their father, Mathew, often takes his boat (the Peggy Gordon) out, fishing and taking photos, but their mother, Jennie, is afraid of the sea. It’s always been the four of them. Until the day Mathew doesn’t come home.

I wish this book had been available when I was a child. I was also a child of the water and would always answer ‘dolphin’ when asked what animal I would be if I had any choice in the matter. I would have loved getting a glimpse of the world beneath the waves. Adult me got excited when I learned there would be Mer, wanting to learn all about their way of life and whether I could visit them.

I wish I was away in Ingo

Far across the briny sea,

Sailing over deepest waters

Where love nor care never trouble me –

The only thing that deterred me from wanting to find a way to Ingo myself was learning that Mer don’t have books. Even if the learning curve required to survive under water didn’t kill me, not having access to books would.

Being an only child I envied Sapphire and Conor’s bond. I wanted to like Faro but found him quite obnoxious. I have high hopes for Elvira, his sister, who I met but didn’t get to know during this book. I’m hoping to get to know her in later books in the series. Maybe Faro will also grow on me in time.

One person that doesn’t need to grow on me is Granny Carne. I need an entire book devoted to her story.

“Some say she’s a witch”

While there’s an underlying message about marine conservation, what really hit home for me was how authentic Sapphire’s loss felt.

You know how the sea grinds down stones into sand, over years and years and years? Nobody ever sees it, it happens so slowly. And then at last the sand is so fine you can sift it in your fingers. Losing Dad is like being worn away by a force that’s so powerful nothing could resist it. We are like stones, being changed into something completely different.

Difficult topics can sometimes be watered down in children’s books and I loved that it wasn’t here.

The thought of Dad is always in my mind somewhere, like a bruise.

The impacts of this loss were evident throughout the story but none captured the effects of Sapphire’s pain to me as simply and clearly as this:

Mum thinks I go and see Katie, or one of my other friends, but I don’t. I feel cut off from them, because their lives are going on the same as ever, but mine has completely changed.

Although I haven’t experienced loss in the specific way that Sapphire and her family do in this book I could easily relate to Sapphire’s need to protect herself from additional pain:

“You’re like a – like a sea anemone. If anyone comes close, you shut yourself up tight.” “That’s how sea anemones survive,” I point out.

The way the author described scenes and emotions continually activated my senses:

Sometimes I think that if adult quarrels had a smell, they would smell like burned food.

It’s strange how characters you’ve only just met can get under your skin. Two days ago I’d never heard of Sapphire. Today I’m going to be asking my library to buy the rest of her story.

“Magic’s wild. You can’t put a harness on it, or make it do what you want. Even the best magic can be dangerous.”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

I wish I was away in Ingo,

Far across the sea,

Sailing over the deepest waters,

Where love nor care can trouble me …

Sapphire’s father mysteriously vanishes into the waves off the Cornwall coast where her family has always lived. She misses him terribly, and she longs to hear his spellbinding tales about the Mer, who live in the underwater kingdom of Ingo. Perhaps that is why she imagines herself being pulled like a magnet toward the sea. But when her brother, Conor, starts disappearing for hours on end, Sapphy starts to believe she might not be the only one who hears the call of the ocean.